Monday, February 20, 2006

The Little “Nacirema” are exposed in Japan

The next intercultural experience occurred in the ship’s bath house. A little bit off the subject, and yet again not, it is my recollection that Professor Brad Hall at the University of New Mexico introduced me to an article by Horace Miner titled “The Nacirema” or it’s actual title: “Body Ritual among the Nacirema.” If you are familiar with this reading please continue on, if not this would be an excellent opportunity to take a moment to read a great intercultural story. The story isn’t terribly long, but is definitely culturally enlightening.

Back to the story, I don’t know about you, but I had never bathed in the way the Japanese do in all 11 years of my life (not all Japanese, of course), does the age 11 seem young? Am I making too big of a deal and are my expectations of youth to high? Don’t even go there. A teammate and I were looking forward to a solo, private, American style, hot shower. Can you relate?

We walk into the men’s bath house and we immediately experience culture shock. Everyone is naked, together (not sexually I must add). There were a few Japanese men that were tattooed from their neck to their wrists and then down to their ankles. My teammate and I looked for private showers in panic and in vain. Eventually, a Japanese gentleman that spoke some English instructed us on the process. We were pointed in the direction of a white tiled area with plastic shared stools, that other naked, dirty rumps had lathered up on before us (by the look of them, for years). The tiles were covered in soap scum and whatever else and out of the tile came a water hose spigot or in other words a water faucet. In America, you can get an idea of what it looks like as most homes are equipped with one out in the backyard for watering purposes. In my recollection, while living in England, I was paying a hose tax for the use of the same spigot.

Picture this if you will. An 11 year old boy sitting on a well used plastic stool with a water faucet to wet himself down with, lather up with soap and rinse himself off. Sound fun, I can inform you from experience it was not very pleasant at all. Typically, I do not practice open displays of public nudity; especially today, as forty years of gravitational pull does wonders for the figure. In order to get back on track, I forgot to mention the other 10 or 12 well used plastic stools with individuals performing the same bathing ritual concurrently. However, saying this, without the removal and cleansing process we under took, we would not have been able to experience the rite of passage, the joy and the relaxation of all the wonderful and clean hot tubs, cold tubs, and massage tubs that were absolutely worth the initial embarrassment and culture shock of public nudity. It is my recommendation if you are in this situation to cleanse yourself first and get into the tubs. I would wager that most of my American teammates would have rejected their available slot on the trip and the travel to Japan, if they had informed us of the cultural differences upfront. For the purpose of learning and such a wonderful cultural experience, I am glad they did not disclose all that would come, otherwise what would I Blog about?

As we are on the subject of Japanese bath houses, I have another story to share. This time the story occurs on the mainland of Japan, I believe it was in Tokyo. Most of my Japanese hosts I was privileged enough to stay with, used public bath houses, only one family had their own private family bathing area, this was of course the 1970’s. As twenty-nine years have passed I do not remember the name of my teammate, but I do remember his number as it was my number before the All-Star selection. My teammate was number 5 and I believe he played second base. He was African-American. The reason I share this information will come to fruition as the story unfolds.

We were soaking in one of the hot tubs and taking in the natural beauty of the surroundings. As we discussed baseball at length and games played, we noticed two Japanese men across from us take their towels from their waist and slip them over their heads. Intrigued by this we watched as the Japanese men took deep breaths and disappeared under water. Being young and adventurous we moved over to where the Japanese men were sitting and we looked beneath the water where they disappeared and discovered a tunnel. We could see light at the other end. Supposedly, curiosity killed the cat, but we were young and intrigued and we were following the Japanese men through the tunnel anyways. Unlike our Japanese predecessors we tightened our towels around our waist to ensure they wouldn’t depart from us, took a deep breath and we commandeered the underwater tunnel. Did I mention that we were not Japanese and we were wearing 1970’s hairdos? My friend had a “big fro” and I had a “scary do” on me. When we emerged on the other side, gasping for air, we heard screams of shock and dismay. As the water drained from our eyes and we regained our focus, we realized that we were 2 young Americans standing amidst bathing Japanese women and for some strange reason we were not blending in at all. Although, I must admit that this form of public nudity was a little more comfortable then the experience on the plastic stools, thanks to our towels being strategically placed and tightened about our waists. Almost immediately, we duck dived back into the tunnel and disappeared. On my way under I caught a glimpse of the two Japanese gentlemen sitting off on the side enjoying the view and activity. I now know the secret of the towels. The 2 Japanese individuals were able to blend in with the towels over their heads as they had very little facial hair. This was my last time swimming into a tunnel without knowing what was on the other end. It’s generally the unknown that scares us most as individuals. The unknown becomes shock, a narrative and then I post it to the shock-a-Comm Blog.

Today’s Recommendation:

Take yourself out of your comfort zone and experience something new.

If you are not familiar with: Regent Professor John (Jack) Carl Condon at the University of New Mexico it is worth your while to investigate him at

Note: I was fortunate enough to attend a culture and discourse seminar with Jack Condon & Richard Harris at the University of New Mexico in January 1999 on Space, Nature and the built environment. As a bonus to this class we spent an afternoon with Edward T. Hall in Santa Fe.

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